AN INTERVIEW WITH
MICHAEL JAY JACKSON
JAN / 2011
“Karate is for everybody, but not for everyone”
My name is Eddie Morales and welcome to Martialforce.com Online Martial Arts Magazine. I want to introduce our readers to Michael Jay Jackson. Jackson is originally from New York City and has been practicing the art of Shotokan Karate for many years. His dedication becomes apparent when you see him demonstrate Kata ( Pre-arranged movements). While doing my research for this interview I spoke to many that know him or have competed against him in sport Karate functions. The consensus was that Jackson is a free flowing, hard hitting fighter with a no nonsense style of fighting. Jackson comes from a strong lineage of Martial artist and continues the tradition by producing strong Shotokan practitioners. He is a dedicated Father, teacher and Martial Artist. We here at Martialforce.com hope you enjoy this interview.
Interview By Eddie Morales
Martialforce.com: Where were you born and what area did you grow up in?
MICHAEL JAY JACKSON: I am currently the owner of the first traditional karate program, the American Shotokan Karate Academy (ASKA) in Killeen/Fort Hood Texas that I established in 1997, upon retiring from the US Army as a Sergeant First Class and Gulf War Veteran.
Martialforce.com: When, where and with who did you begin your Martial Arts training?
MICHAEL JAY JACKSON: I started Karate training under Toyotaro Miyazaki Sensei and Assistant Instructor Georges Aschkar Jr. (then known as the Kenkojuku Association). Mr. Miyazaki was a top ranked kumite and kata competitor of the late 1960's and returned to kata competition in the early 80's. Jerome Mackey’s was a chain of martial arts schools in the early 70’s. I trained at the Lexington Ave. School in Manhattan. Miyazaki Sensei is truly one of the best instructors of our time. During this time (1970's) Mr. Miyazaki had produced many champion black belts; to include Georges Aschkar Jr. Sensei and Donnie Collins Sensei to name a few. I trained under these black belts, which in return enabled me to excel and advance in rank. Aschkar Sensei played a very important role in my martial arts training. Aschkar Sensei provided a way for me to train when I could not afford to pay his monthly fee. In my opinion Aschkar Sensei is a Great Martial Artist and one of the best people that I have ever had the pleasure of knowing.
In 1974 I left the Kenkojuku Association and joined The Shotokan Warriors Association under the direction of Errol Bennett Sensei (top ranked competitor in Kumite and Kata of the 1970's, 80's, 90's and into the New Millennium. Bennett Sensei’s Organization is what I would call the school of hard knocks, the atmosphere was like that of a jungle; only the strong would survive. Many people came and joined the school but were short lived…eventually they would turn up at other schools; Bennett’s dojo was just too demanding I guess… If you made it to an advanced rank, and trained with the senior black belts, you needed to have your stuff together; because these were “old school karatekas” if you know what I mean…And if you did not have the intestinal fortitude, then the biggest baddest Senior Black Belts in the dojo would devour you. Not because they were bullies…but because that was the way we trained back then…yet with control…we pounded the body, because bare knuckles to the facial area was just too dangerous. We all knew that and respected that. Of course there were the occasional bloody noses and black eyes but nothing more than that. But sore muscles were a weekly occurrence. And you never knew what to expect when you got to the dojo…or who would be there. Sometimes we would train in the dark…or silently. Sometimes the practice was hard, all out, sometimes it was do everything in slow motion. We used to practice what we called “squeezing”. We would have to have full control of our technique and extend our kicks slowly, hold it until Sensei said to bring it back. We had to use proper form in extending the kicks each time…sometimes the whole practice was squeezing each kick, ten times with both legs and could take up to an hour. I remember how our muscles would tremble. The end result…fast kicks were effortless, and properly executed and this also made your legs strong. We would do the same with our stances. A normal movement in front or back stance would take a second or less to perform…but when we “squeezed our technique that same evolution of step could take up to ten or 15 seconds…believe me, it is way harder than it may sound.
To be a black belt in Bennett Sensei’s Organization was not an easy accomplishment. Class hours were from 7:00 P.M. until 11:00 P.M. Monday, Wednesday and Friday; and if it was sparring night with 20 students then you would spar all 19 other people at least once or twice. We fought at Bennett’s and sometimes dojo Kumite was like being in a real street fight. I call it, "The Old Blood & Guts Era". There was no safety equipment back then; we would wrap our hands up with white adhesive tape and fight. There were big dents and holes in the walls were someone had gotten kicked or punched into. The dojo had an old wooden floor with no mats. At Bennett Sensei’s dojo, we were masters at blocking, punching, sweeping and take down artist; and if you didn’t know how to fall then it was on you. I learned how to actually fight for my life there in that little dojo that Bennett’s students refer to as the RED DOOR! The dojo was a modest storefront…not more than 15 feet wide and maybe 40 feet long. But behind that Red Door, lives were changed! And I meant that, because, had the training there been ordinary…I would not be the person I am today. Bennett Sensei is a Karate Icon; he has mastered, "The Way of the Empty Hand", and is continuing to passing it on… Today he has excelled in the organization Shotokan Karate of America or S.K.A lead by Oshima Sensei, headquartered in California. Bennett heads up several of The S.K.A. of New York Branches.
Sensei Bennett’s Dojo 1975
Sensei Bennett watches on while my nephew Billy Beason
and I test for Shodan in 1975
Sensei Bennett’s Dojo 2010, Sensei Bennett center front row,
me front row
right and DJ Breakout (from rap group Funky 4-Plus one more) second row
second from right
Martialforce.com: What do you feel that the practice of Martial Arts has given you?
The kids I taught in my parents’ basement
MICHAEL JAY JACKSON: I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity of knowing and training with such fine Masters, martial artists and students. A special thanks goes out to Master Vincent Cruz, the late Lionel Worrell Sensei, Toyotaro Miyazaki Sensei, George Aschkar Sensei, Fred Miller Sensei, William Pugh Sensei, Donnie Collins Sensei, Mike Warren, Wildcat Molina Sensei, Gregorio Escobar Sensei, and my nephew Billy Beason (William A. Beason) Sensei; one of the best Kumite and Katas practitioners that has ever practiced Karate-Do. Last but not least Errol Bennett Sensei, he has been and still is the driving force behind everything that is Shotokan Karate to me. From the first day I walked into his dojo, I knew that the true spirit of karate was being taught there, through our blood, sweat and tears. There is nothing emotional about hard training!
MICHAEL JAY JACKSON: Kata is the very heart and soul of karate, without it you have kickboxing, or MMA just to name a few of the kata-less arts. Kata is a commitment to ones art. It is a responsibility for the karatekas to pass on the teaching of those great Masters that dedicated their lives to the preservation and development of the different karate styles we practice today.
Martialforce.com: In your opinion, what defines a good Martial Arts practitioner?
MICHAEL JAY JACKSON: One who perseveres and never quits. I once heard Hanshi Cruz the founder of The International San Ten Karate Association say, “A black belt is a white belt that never quits. I served 20yrs in the US Army, and “I can’t” was never an option. I could never go to my Commanding Officer and say, “Sir I can’t compete the mission because of this or that”. In the military we don’t have that luxury. The Martial Arts also taught me the same thing. I was a little sickly kid that could not do one push up. Karate is life and life is karate. I taught myself to do pushups, to never give up and to turn all my weaknesses into my strengths. As a teenager I would train in New York in the snow and the cold for hours at a time; just to test my medal and to build my karate spirit to a level that none of my peers were on. Training for me was six days a week. So when I joined the Army it was easy for me to fit in. I trained and taught karate while in the military. Everywhere I went, my Gi and my obi (karate uniform and black belt) was with me. I trained in the absence of my Sensei while serving my Country.
Jackson and two sons Training in kata in the snow
Martialforce.com: Can you give our readers your definition of a good instructor?
MICHAEL JAY JACKSON: The Japanese culture is so different than ours, but there are things that people can learn from one another, as long as they respect each other's will to be different. Japanese people have a word, a way of life called giri; it is woven into the fabric of their culture. Giri is an unpaid debt that a student has to his or her Sensei; that cannot be paid with money. A person cannot put any monitory value on giri; it is an obligation that one carries for life. And on the other side of this coin, the Sensei also has a giri to his or her students. The instructor is there to teach martial arts along with lessons of life. The meaning of sensei is, one who was here before.
Martialforce.com: What would you say is your greatest achievement to date?
MICHAEL JAY JACKSON: My greatest achievement was making black belt and being able to incorporate it into who I am. Being a black belt is not what I wear around my waist, but it is who I am. I carry the Black Belt in my heart and soul, I thank God that I am here to pass this energy of life forward to those whom need to be the best they can be in every facet of their lives. I have a motto that I teach my karate students and it is, “Karate is for everybody, but not for everyone”. People come into the dojo thinking that their instructor is going to teach them some five finger exploding heart technique; but when they find out that it’s hard work, commitment and dedication then they quit. They are conditioned by our McDonald’s type culture, meaning they want everything quick fast and in a hurry. I ask myself all the time why do people quit karate? I still get excited about developing a new bunkai or teaching a student a technique. Some people make black belt and quit, because that’s all they wanted was the belt. I teach my students that Black Belt is the beginning of their Martial Arts training. I feel that Black Belt is easier to make than it is maintain.
MICHAEL JAY JACKSON: Yes, I not only have a karate program at my dojo, I run an after school program for children ages 4yrs old to 10yrs of age. I have the most affordable rates in the entire Central Texas Area, because I want everyone to be able to train in karate-do regardless of their families’ income. I don’t want cost to be the major issue for a child not being able to practice. I would like to open another dojo in an area that doesn’t have the kind of program we have. I also have an Art teacher that owns an Art Gallery to come in twice a week to teach art classes to the children. I provide the children with tutoring to assist them with their homework. The person that does our tutoring program is a substitute teacher in the local school system that is working on his Master’s Degree. I want the children in my dojo to be exposed to people that are role models and that are doing positive things in their lives, but karate is the catalylist that these different programs are based off of. I want to continue to compete in tournament, and teach as long as God is willing to bless me with good health.
MICHAEL JAY JACKSON: Yes, I do compete; but not much as I used too. I mostly do kata now; the last time I fought was in New York City the day after my fifty-second birthday at Georges Ashkar Sensei’s Tournament. I’m fifty four now and injuries from kumite take a lot longer for me to recover from. My two sons are 17yrs old and 23yrs old and they are both active on the tournament circuit. My 17yr old son was Texas State Champion in 2009-2010. I do not require my student to compete but I do have over twenty students that compete at the state level and July 2010 we are going to be a force at the National (USANKF)
MICHAEL JAY JACKSON: I teach my students to enjoy the sport aspect of karate, but don’t get too wrapped up in the politics of the officials and other dojos. It is good to be able to exercise one’s control and to trade techniques with people other than their dojo classmates. I also instill in them that sport is a lot different than real life karate; meaning karate is a weapon and cannot be employed unless it is a life or death situation. Karate is deadly and should never be played with, that is why in sport karate there are rule that the competitor must adhered to for the safely of each and every practitioner. I teach them that it’s a game, and not to get upset it they don’t place, it’s about the experience they gain from each and every match; that’s the prize!
MICHAEL JAY JACKSON: I have a program for children 3yrs old to 5yrs old that is designed to introduce the martial arts to children in hopes that it will become a part of who they are and to pull them away from all those video games or off the computer. When they turn 6yrs old they transition to the beginners’ class and start training with the older children with higher rank and experience.
Martialforce.com: Do you teach your students street defense or sport Karate?
MICHAEL JAY JACKSON: I teach them mostly the self-defense techniques from their katas so that they can understand that karate has everything that they could possibly need to defend themselves in a real life situation.
Martialforce.com: While in the military, did you continue your practice of Karate?
MICHAEL JAY JACKSON: Yes I did because karate was a part of who I am, and it’s goes with me everywhere...
Martialforce.com: Thank you for accepting this interview and we wish you much success in all your endeavors.
MICHAEL JAY JACKSON: Thank you for this opportunity to speak my mind.